China releases, deports alleged Canadian spy after two years in custody

Kevin Garratt hugs his wife Julia Garratt after being deported by Chinese authorities.
Kevin Garratt hugs his wife Julia Garratt after being deported by Chinese authorities.PHOTO: REUTERS

MONTREAL (AFP) - A Canadian man arrested in China two years ago on charges of spying and stealing state secrets has been freed and is back home in Canada, his family said on Thursday (Sept 15).

Mr Kevin Garratt was detained in 2014 along with his wife Julia Dawn, who was later released on bail, in the north-eastern Chinese city of Dandong, on the border with North Korea.

Before their arrests, Mr Garratt and his wife, both Christians, had run a coffee shop in Dandong and were active in helping send humanitarian aid to impoverished North Korea.

Mr Garratt was deported from China on Thursday after a court in Dandong ruled on his case on Tuesday, his family said in a statement.

"Kevin... has returned to Canada to be with his family and friends," the statement said.

"The Garratt family thanks everyone for their thoughts and prayers, and also thanks the many individuals who worked to secure Kevin's release."

The family asked for respect of its privacy "in this time of transition", saying it would release more information in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Mr Garratt home, praising his family's "grace and resilience", especially that of Kevin and his wife.

"We are delighted that Kevin Garratt has returned safely to Canada and is with his family once more," Mr Trudeau said in a statement.

"The government of Canada has been seized of this case at the highest levels," he added. "We want to thank consular officials who work behind the scenes every day in support of Canadians abroad."

The detention had raised tensions between the two countries.

The Garratts were arrested a week after Canada accused China of hacking, prompting accusations that Beijing was investigating them in retaliation.

A number of Christian organisations - especially South Korean - in Dandong are actively assisting North Korean refugees who have illegally crossed the border.

In late August, Mr Trudeau said he had "highlighted" Mr Garratt's case in meetings with Chinese leaders during a state visit to China.

However, he stressed the aim of the visit was to establish a "strong, stable relationship and ongoing dialogue" with Beijing.

Following his trip, Mr Trudeau said that the "hot and cold" nature of relations between the two sides was over and that ties had been "revitalised".

Mr Garratt's release comes less than a week before Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang is set to visit Ottawa.

Canada's second-largest trade partner after the United States, China has strongly pushed Canada to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Canada said in August it would apply.

The United States and Japan - the world's largest and third-largest economies, respectively - have declined to join.

China's Foreign Ministry said the Intermediate People's Court in Dandong had ruled on Mr Garratt's case on Tuesday.

"China is a country ruled by law," it said in a statement, adding that Chinese judicial organs had handled the case "according to law" and had guaranteed Mr Garratt's legal rights.